Recently I interviewed Mark Hartley, mostly about his latest documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films – but here is what he had to say about the current state of genre cinema in Australia, which is, he suggests, a lot less healthy than it might look from across the pond.
AB: Your first documentary [Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!]dealt with one of the most productive periods for genre cinema in Australia’s film history, but it could be argued that we’re in another period like that…
MH: In Australia? I wouldn’t have thought that at all.
AB: It’s funny, because it’s possible that we get a very skewed view here of what the national product is like, because we only see what is released here which isn’t all the product, but there’s a lot of horror material coming out from Australia, and has been for the last five or so years.
MH: When you say a lot, what do you mean a lot? I mean, there really isn’t. It’s very hard to make a genre film in Australia. It’s particularly hard to get financing for a genre film because no-one – audiences don’t embrace genre films in Australia. And the only way to trigger finance is to get distributors and exhibitors behind your film, and they’re not going to get behind your film if they know that no audience is going to go and see it. So it’s very, very difficult. It’s probably harder now than ever before to get a genre film financed in Australia. And obviously, you know, there’s been films like The Babadook that – I mean, I’m seeing giant subway posters in London – Babadook went out on 12 screens in Australia and made nothing. Wolf Creek  they thought was going to be a huge hit, made nothing. Well, it didn’t make nothing, but it made far, far less than they imagined. These Final Hours went out on 161 screens, didn’t make a dent. No audiences are going and seeing these films.
AB: That’s interesting, that’s quite different from the impression I had. In other words, the films that we regard here as successes are only making their money abroad, they’re not making their money in Australia at all.
MH: That’s the genre films. Certainly things like, you know, Red Dog and The Sapphires do well…
AB: No no, I’m talking specifically about genre.
MH: I can’t think of, I mean, you know, Wolf Creek  made some money, but not anywhere near what they imagined it was going to make.
AB: It had a very negative critical reception, as I recall. [Influential Australian critic] David Stratton…
MH: Well David Stratton refused to review it. David Stratton gave Patrick one star, and said that it was torture porn, which is the last thing it is, so, yeah, I dunno.
AB: In other words, this is a bleak time, really, for you to be doing…
MH: It is a very bleak time. I would be – I doubt I would be able to get a film up in the next five years in Australia. That’s the reality of going back to Australia.
AB: Have you thought about working abroad?
MH: Yeah, of course I have, yeah.
AB: And you are, possibly, maybe? You’re thinking about it?
MH: Everything’s getting complicated at the moment…